Bonaire, History, Buriku di Boneiru, The Donkeys of Bonaire, Exportation and Wilderness, 1761-2009

The Donkeys were especially useful in the salt flats because they were strong and had an amazing memory. After a few trips up and down the same path, they could be counted on to deliver their load of salt and return to another. They have always lived in half-wilderness and they have appeared on Bonaire very probably as soon as 1601, imported by the Spaniards from Europe (cf Second Voyage of Christopher Colombus in 1495 and Juan de Oñate’s American expedition of 1598).

Several kinds of Donkeys were imported and bred on Bonaire: Donkeys, mules and zebra hybrids. In 1831, 300 Bonairean Donkeys were sold and exported to Jamaica at 15-20 gulden per unit. Circa 1858, Donkeys have been targeted in a plan to limit their population, an adult donkey can drink as much as 80 liters of fresh water per day and they are reproducing at a rapid rate. At the end of the Nineteenth century, the donkeys were let loose in the Bonairian savanna.

Becoming obsolete in the twentieth century, Feral Donkeys have turned to be a problem with few solutions, even nowadays.

It’s not unusual for several donkeys to be injured or killed every week. Sometimes drivers are injured and the cars always require repairs. Body repair shops can “pay the rent” just by fixing the damage to the automobiles caused by collisions with the animals. Several measures have been tried but failed to solve the problem: “Donkey Crossing” signs were installed but stolen by tourists as souvenirs; an education campaign to get drivers to slow down had little effect; and more street lights only attracted the animals to the roadside. But it’s hoped the solution will be found by using the donkeys themselves.
The work now being done at the Donkey Sanctuary may go a long way to solving the problem. A breeding program has been undertaken by the LVV (Government Agricultural Service) and the Sanctuary to make the donkeys easier to see in the daylight or at night. After 10 years of selective crossing the hardy Bonairean Donkey with the Jamaican Red Stripe Donkey and a zebra from the zoo in Rotterdam, the first baby has been born that carries the traits desired (see the color photo on page 1). Marina Telis, curator of the Sanctuary told us, “Not only does this baby donkey have the high visibility we were going after, but he is sweet and friendly.” To introduce this color trait as quickly as possible, artificial insemination will be used to impregnate selected wild females. Volunteers are needed and will be selected for their sensitivity to the animals’ needs. If you are interested in this work, contact the Sanctuary at 760-7607.

It will still be many years before this genetic characteristic spreads to the many feral donkey herds on the island, so please, continue to drive carefully.


Reeds in de 17de eeuw werden Aruba en Bonaire de “geiten-eilanden” (Goat Islands) genoemd. Aruba kreeg daarnaast grote bekendheid om de paardenfokkerij, terwijl Bonaire zich ontwikkelde tot een rancho van ezels.

SRC: De Zoogdieren van de Nederlandse Antillen, 1960. By M. Nijhoff.

Buricu (Papamientu), ezel: Werd door de Spanjaarden uit Zuid-Europa ingevoerd. Tegen het einde van de 18de eeuw liepen er grote kudden half verwilderde ezels rond op Bonaire, Aruba en Curaçao.

SRC: Encyclopedie van de Nederlandse Antillen, 1969. By H. Hoetlink.

Ezels, mede van de vaste kust ingevoerd, worden echter op Curaçao en vooral op Bonaire sterk aangefokt, zoodat van laatstgemeld eiland, in 1831, 300 stuks tegen 15 tot 20 gulden ieder ezel, naar het eiland Jamaica zijn uitgevoerd;- deze prijs is zeker gering, wanner men daarbij in aanmerking neemt, dat de ezelinnen dertien maanden dragen.

SRC: De Nederlandsche West-Indische Eilanden, p 242., 1836. By Marten Douwes Teenstra

In 1834, 1835 en 1836 hoopten de voorraden onverkocht zout zich dan ook op, zowel op Bonaire als op de plantages op Curaçao. Het zout moest daarom in kleine vaartuigen of met ezels naar pakhuizen bij de haven worden gebracht.

SRC: Het Curaçao plantagebredijf in de negentiende eeuw, 1981. By W.E. Renkema.

Na Esser, die in 1848 aftrad, daalde de prijs van een ezel weer tot ƒ10-à ƒ11-, wat in 1861 nog zo was. Moest de ezel uit de bossen opgevangen worden, dat kwam er ƒ2.- extra bij…

SRC: Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse Antillen: Bonaire, van indianen tot toeristen, 1954. By Johannes Hartog.

Het putwater, dat drinkbaar is, moet dus op veren afstand in vaten door ezels worden aangebragt. Deze viervoeten zijn op Bonaire zeer in gebruik en men berijdt ze ook in plaats van paarden. Het eiland levert wilde ezels op, dat is: zulke die in het wild in de booschen rondloopen en daar voorttelen; jaarlijks worden er nog eenige honderden opgevangen en verkocht, zooals ook eenige wilde paarden en stieren.

SRC: Bijdragen tot de Taal-, land- en volkenkunde van nederlandsch-Indië, partie 3, 1863. The Hague.

Donkey population in Bonaire.

1761: 2130

1816: 2000

1845: 124

1848: 1800

1849: 232

1863: 800

1886: 2200

1944: 900

2009: 200 (wild), 400 (Donkey Sanctuary)= 600

©2012 Olivier Douvry/GlobeDivers

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